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Posts Tagged ‘merlin’

My Five Favorite Blog Posts of 2009

I didn’t blog that much this year. Of the blog writing I did do, here are five entries I feel are worth your time:

Elmore Leonard Answers My Questions

Elmore Leonard is one of my top three favorite writers and the opportunity to correspond with him via Barnes & Noble’s message boards was one of my highlights of the year.

Your Monday Prompt #41

I really like this prompt. It’s the sort of prompt I should be upset with myself for not actually trying. I hope you do better with it than I have so far.

Hai to the Ku

Barry created a fun little Twitter application that creates haiku poems out of tweets. I don’t know much about Twitter but it’s a neat gadget to try.

I saw Zero 7 in concert

I like this post because I came home from the concert and immediately felt like writing.

A Storyteller Passes Away

I miss Merlin Dewing.

Here’s hoping I have more than five favorite blog posts in 2010.

-nm

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I saw Zero 7 in concert.

Let me say upfront that it doesn’t really matter to me how people discover something they enjoy and that includes the bandwagon. If someone got into a band because they heard one of their songs in a commercial, good. And that’s not the band selling out, that’s the band gaining exposure and more audience. This is all for another post, really, but it’s preamble to my writing about Zero 7. ((Basically, I don’t wanna be accused of being a poser.))

I started listening to Zero 7 because of the film Garden State. I remember seeing that movie and literally driving across the street immediately afterward to buy the soundtrack. It had a sticker on the cellophane wrapper emblazoned with a variation of the line Sam (Natalie Portman) proclaims to Large (Zack Braff) about “New Slang” by The Shins: “You’ve got to hear this one song, it’ll change your life, I swear.” Braff’s 2004 directorial debut was about a 25-year-old who sought direction to find his identity. At the time, I WAS a 25-year-old who sought direction to find his identity. So yeah, there was a little resonance going on there.

Zero 7’s “In the Waiting Line” was a standout track for me, both in the film (it plays as Large sits motionless as the party spins faster and faster around him) and on the soundtrack (smackdab between the record’s two tracks by The Shins – “Caring is Creepy” and the aforementioned “New Slang”). I picked up one of their records, As It Falls, and I was hooked.

The band – a duo, really, with musicians and singers joining them on particular projects and tracks – has a varietal sound that starts as ambiance, meanders into the realm of the acoustic, takes a sharp turn into bass-rich techno loops, and finally settles into something that resembles none of these genres on their own. You know those records where each song feels different enough from the last that each one is seemingly by a different artist in a different genre? Like Beck’s Midnite Vultures or Radiohead’s OK Computer? A Zero 7 record sounds a lot like that.

On When It Falls, for example, it kicks off with “Warm Sound,” a stripped away combination of bass beat and a male voice with light vocals eventually joined by a flute, while the next track, “Home,” an organ (likely a synthesizer but still) accompanies a female vocalist ((Sia, who has left the band and is recording some highly-anticipated solo material)) as a trumpet finds its way into the mix and then a full brass ensemble. The next track, “Somersault,” is a purely acoustic ballad with no discernable “tech” in it to my ear. Closing the record is “Morning Song” with its whispy, almost windy, sound that culminates in an uplifting piano instrumental. You get the picture.

I enjoy it all though it’s the acoustic and lighter work that I dig the most. I’ve made many a mix CD with songs like “Somersault” to play in the background during candlelit small group discussions and for meditation purposes at work. My boss liked what he heard and sought out their records, too, and we’ve been using it in our work the last three years or so. And that’s how a thirty-year-old youth director and his sixty-year-old pastor came to go to the Zero 7 concert at Epic in Minneapolis last Saturday night.

As far as I can tell, this is Zero 7’s first US tour since I’ve been listening to them (they’re from the UK) and I didn’t want to miss out. I invited Kent and we headed out for a 9:00pm show after a long day including Merlin’s funeral and an early morning of managing worship services ahead of us. Undaunted, we arrived and found a decent spot to stand for the next three hours approximately fifteen feet from the stage. I joked with Kent the 9:00pm start time would never happen. I’d never been to a concert that started on time. The opening act, Body Language, ended that streak when they stepped onto the stage at 9:00pm sharp.

Hailing from Brooklyn, Body Language concluded their nine-city stint opening for Zero 7 in Minneapolis and I dug what I heard (links: Facebook group and a review of one of their recent shows). An eclectic mix of instruments, harmonized male and female vocals, and a fun sense of humor all combined well for a set that made it clear they were having a lot of fun. I think it’s easy for a band to come off as aloof or too cool for school, as if we’re daring to bother them enough to come from backstage and humor us with their little musics. Body Language gave off a most opposite vibe. They dug the crowd, we dug ’em right back. I was sincerely disappointed they didn’t have any CDs available for purchase at the counter.

The Zero 7 set was great in ways I didn’t expect. Kent and I went to the show with our love of their acoustic work in mind. As soon as the first song started, we realized we were crazy if we thought they were going to go that route for a concert. They stuck to their more technoish, beat-blasting fare, even turning some lighter songs like “Home” into outright body-shaking bass thumpers. And that’s okay, we were certainly excited to see them either way. If anything, we had to laugh at ourselves for our naïvity.

We were off to the side a little and were thus privy to a show of a roadie or two tuning guitars in-between songs. They changed instruments after almost every song which doesn’t surprise me. When I play some of my favorite Zero 7 songs on my ukulele with chords I find online, I’m often needing to grab my capo and play in a different key. Many band members kept switching instruments, too, all humble enough to partake in whatever instrument the song needed – from a giant keyboard to a tiny set of bells. We couldn’t quite figure out what the large box one of the singers was “playing” was; the movements her hands made seemed a cross between playing an accordion and a theremin but I don’t know that it was either. (EDIT: Mohammed wrote in the comments to let me know the instrument is called a harmonium. Here’s an improvised YouTube clip.) As for their setlist, they played a lot off the new record, took vocal breaks to play instrumentals, had a solid encore, and I was happy to hear old stuff like “In the Waiting Line,” “Home,” and “Pageant of the Bizarre.” I got to sing along here and there and that means I was having a good time. I would have had an even better time if the two women dancing in diameters that would rival the equator perhaps four inches in front of us would have been more aware of their surroundings when it came to flailing arms and purses, but whatever.

Is it that I’m not a great photographer or is the camera on my Nokia 5310 just not that great? Eh, a little from Column A, a little from Column B. Here’s the only decent shot I got – it’s of Eska Mtungwazi singing “Mr. McGee” from the new record, Yeah Ghost:

zero-7-concert

As for the venue, Epic is pretty much The Quest. I can’t really tell any difference, except the last few times I went there under its former name I was free to move upstairs without needing to get VIP reservations for bottle service. Maybe that’s the difference between a UK band on tour and a local show, maybe that’s the difference between old management and new management (if a change was even made). Either way, Kent held up pretty well despite recent knee issues but I couldn’t help but eyeball the empty, cozy-looking couches upstairs…

I hope you give Zero 7 a try. Let me know in the comments if you have.

-nm

A storyteller passes away.

A great man named Merlin Dewing passed away this morning at the age of seventy-four. I was shocked and stunned, as Merlin was as young as they get, full of life and an interest in bettering the lives of others. There is a mix of grief and gratitude in me this week. Grief for his death and gratitude for a chance to get to know him in this last year of his life.

I met Merlin at Excelsior United Methodist Church where I’ve worked the past five years. My being assigned to youth and young adults, our paths didn’t cross all that much and so I didn’t have the opportunity to get to know Merlin until I started the church’s Men’s Book Club in February, 2009. When I started the group, I didn’t know who would show up or who would show up consistently or who would enjoy it. It was my first program aimed exclusively at adult men and I was nervous at whether or not it would succeed. Since its inception in February, attendance has been low, not everyone who comes one month continues to the next month, and there’s still a struggle to discover what’s needed to make this club grow.

Merlin was the only man who showed up from day one and who had never missed a meeting. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.

When he showed up the first night, I honestly had to play the, “I Know Your Name, I’m Just Not Going to Say It” Game. It’s the game I sometimes play with adults who I recognize at church but don’t know very well. My constituency, the youth group, is downstairs while the adults are upstairs and to make connections outside of youth and their parents, I have to make a concerted effort. So here came a man who I recognized by face but not name and as our first book discussion unfolded I not only learned his name but it soon became clear I’d been depriving myself of an excellent connection for years.

Merlin contributed so much to the Men’s Book Club. In order to be a close reader, I’m (unfortunately) a slow reader and I admired Merlin’s ability to read so quickly and yet simultaneously savor the story. At our meetings, he always had something of substance to say about the books we read. He recognized writers’ stylistic choices, how stories connected to other pieces of literature, and embraced new stories without hesitation (I’ll never forget how excited he was to finally read his first Stephen King novel, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and the way he was impressed by King’s writing and how it went against every stereotype he’d heard of the man’s macabre storytelling). Most importantly, Merlin knew how to connect the story on the written page to the stories of our lives.

While our reason to gather was to talk about books, I must admit a major contributor to my personal enjoyment of attempting to pull a handful of men together every third Tuesday of the month was my getting to hear a slew of fascinating personal stories from Merlin. The man had a million of them, never a dull one and always pertinent to the discussion at-hand. There were stories about business and tales of the military, stories of overcoming hardship and lore of local history, great jokes with great timing and touching love stories. When I was told Merlin passed away, I was upset with myself in the same way as was I was told my Grandma Phyllis died (the day before our first Men’s Book Club meeting back in February, to tie things together a little more tightly).

For years I’d meant to get Grandma’s stories down on paper or tape and barely scratched the surface on this goal. It was a missed opportunity I’ll never get back and not having her stories and the story of her life recorded as completely as possible – straight from her lips – is the pain I try to avoid most when I think of her these days. This feeling rose in me as I learned of Merlin’s passing because I remember clearly, every month, sitting there with a kid’s grin on my face as Merlin recounted story after story and thinking to myself, “I have to get with this man and write everything he says down.”  I didn’t do that and it’s a regret I’ll carry with me.

Merlin chose last month’s book club selection, The Sweet Season: A Sportswriter Rediscovers Football, Family, and a Bit of Faith at Minnesota’s St. John’s University by Austin Murphy. He’ read it before and had high hopes this locally-focused pigskin tale smackdab in the middle of the football season would bring in more members and though we didn’t have a large group show up, Merlin lead the discussion with ease and enthusiasm. He chose Murphy’s book because he admired Gagliarti’s leadership style and we had a long talk about what it means to stand out from the crowd as a leader. Through an online search to read his obituary, I came across a business website Merlin was involved in and saw this quote from him splashed across the top of the page:

“Leaders should be measured not by how much they lead, but by how little they have to lead. Their success comes from knowing how to select and develop gifted people.”
~ Merlin Dewing

This attitude was reflected in how Merlin saw Gagliarti as coach in the book and in how Merlin contributed not only to what I personally witnessed in Men’s Book Club but also in what I saw in how he interacted with his church family, entreprenuership opportunities, and his marriage. Reading his obituary it was clear he was well-loved and well-respected with many accomplishments under his belt that I never heard about. Maybe that’s because I was downstairs with the youth group. But more likely, it’s because Merlin was humble and sought to build up others before he built up himself. I anticipate learning even more about him at his funeral this Saturday and while I’m grieving, this impending time of celebrating Merlin’s life leaves me with gratitude to have known him at all.

(Postscript – At Merlin’s funeral, there were indeed tales of his being humble and for as many wonderful stories as he told me about other people in his life, it was an absolute joy to hear so many wonderful stories about him. The man has done so much, including playing an integral part in keeping the Twins in Minnesota in the early 1980s, not that one would have heard about it from him.)

On December 15 the Men’s Book Club discusses The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Knowing how quickly Merlin could get through a book, our group will be left wondering if he finished, what he thought of Sebold’s style, and especially how he viewed the portrayal of the afterlife. I would have loved to hear what new stories he’d be able to relate to the novel, and I wonder if I would have finally made time to work with him on writing them all down.

Merlin Dewing was a man of character and he enriched the story of my life.

-nm